Careers in Corn features the below resource that highlights the career paths of various professionals.
We were honored to attend the following schools and reached 138 students through eight tour stops.
I’m the CEO of Western Plains Energy, LLC. My role includes responsibility over the entire operation including areas such as production, sales, grain procurement, safety, and financials. In the end, everything falls underneath my responsibility.
I went to Kansas State University and majored in Chemical Engineering.
I would say math and science courses. While I don’t have a particular class, having a solid understanding of science and engineering helps me understand the production side, helps me with troubleshooting problems, and provides me with a solid basis for investigating new technologies and potential projects.
I wish I would have taken more business classes. I have thought many times over the years that I should go back and get a Master’s in Business Administration. Unfortunately, I have just haven’t ever dedicated the time to do it.
I graduated from K-State in 1997 and spent eight or nine years at Cargill managing different unit operations. During those years I learned how to manage people, how to manage specific unit operations, how to improve efficiency of those unit operations and how to look at a project with business sense. Then I worked in the ethanol industry for the next three to four years focused on the startup of a new ethanol company and on the engineering and construction side of building new ethanol plants. I found the opportunity to participate in starting a brand new company as very rewarding. There were so many things to learn and figure out, but it was also a very rewarding experience to get to be a part of setting a culture of a new company. After that, I went into some consulting roles within the engineering and project development side of the ethanol and broader renewable energy industry. In 2012, I was given the opportunity to move to Australia and work in an ethanol plant there. It was an incredible experience for which I will always be grateful. In 2013, I came back to the United States and started working for Western Plains Energy.
Get involved in outside activities and work really hard to get internships. Don’t be afraid to contact many different companies and ask for internships even if they aren’t advertising. Come with more than just a resume, reach out and promote yourself with an idea of how your skills can benefit that specific company and their needs. And don’t focus on one specific career path, be open on how your skills, experiences, and passions can provide value to various industries and career paths. Particular to the ethanol industry, we offer a huge opportunity to be involved in agriculture many different ways.
I am Director of Operations and Branch Coordinator of the Ulysses location. My day to day job consists of many different layers. I work on new product development and work with each location’s branch manager to make sure that they are taken care of. I’m there for them to answer any questions they may have about their employees, equipment, jobs, service and any other need they have. I also go and visit customers to see what we can do to help them and better serve them as a business.
My Bachelor of Arts degree was in pastoral studies with leadership development and then my Master of Arts degrees in Christian studies with leadership development.
I would say the most beneficial class I took was on ethics in leadership and the philosophy of leadership behind the ethics. It has helped me to look at the whole picture of the business and realize how ethical leadership impacts ethical business. If you have people who are ethical in business you’ll have good relationships with customers and most importantly employees, because they are your number one asset. Customers may be “always right,” but if you don’t also take care of your employees then you can’t properly take care of your customers. And that’s just doing ethical business whether it’s in the irrigation world or your personal life at home.
Classes that pertain to human resource development would probably be very helpful. In this job, you’re dealing with people, laws and paychecks. Some businesses are lucky to have a person or even a whole staff devoted to human resources but the average small business like ours you’re left to learn that yourself. I wish I had taken more classes to help me out with some of those layers of the business.
Teeter Irrigation Inc. started in 1977 and this year 2017 we are celebrating our 40th year in business. I was born into this business and have spent more than 20 years working in different sectors of the business. I have learned literally every facet of it over that time, and I am still learning today. I did take a 10 years of my life to work as a pastor in several small rural churches. This was a rewarding and enlightening time in my life. Through my seminary education during those years, I recognized that I could do more good outside the church walls to help people reach their full potential. I now “in my current job” get the opportunity to help over 4,000 customers, 100 employees, and many others by making an impact. I am blessed!
Finish college now, don’t wait until later on in life to finish. If you aren’t going to finish now, take the time to think about it long and hard before you go back so when you do go back you can give it all you’ve got. Don’t just go through the motions of school, don’t make it just another piece of paper to go on your wall. Get as much knowledge there while you can, because knowledge is what helps grow our country, lives and impacts our families.
My job title is Northwest Area Agronomist. I provide leadership for extension agronomy efforts in the 26 county area I’m in charge of in northwest and north-central Kansas. I work with producers, industry people and of course our local agents in being proactive in educating about current issues we see in crop production. One of the unique things about my job is I’m in a 100% extension appointment but with that I do a fair bit of applied research because we need that research in order to have something to talk about. Predominately my work is in corn, wheat, sorghum and emerging crops in the northwest area, such as field peas.
Precision agriculture is what I’m most passionate about. My undergraduate degree is from K-State from the College of Agriculture and I majored in Agricultural Technology Management (ATM). They don’t offer a graduate degree in ATM so following the field of precision ag the next step for me was to get a Masters degree in agronomy. After working in research for several years I decided to go back to campus and complete my Ph. D in agronomy with an emphasis in crop ecology from Kansas State University as well.
I think there was three classes I really find beneficial.
I was able to sneak through grad school without taking biochemistry and I wish I would have actually taken that. We do a lot in terms of understanding plant water stress or heat stress, I have training in the physiology but it would be helpful to have a better understanding of the biochemistry involved.
Throughout pursuing my undergrad, I helped pay for school by selling seed corn. Then I worked as a graduate research assistant during graduate school and worked for three years full time at the Tribune research station as the assistant scientist after getting my Master’s degree. I was managing trials and running field research on both dryland and irrigated cropland. And then as I was finishing my Ph.D. I applied for this job, interviewed and got it. I’m also still very involved in my family’s farming and ranching operation.
My piece of advice for college students would be don’t be afraid to take some coursework that’s a little bit outside of what you’re wanting or what your normal interests are. What I’ve learned is there’s other things you can learn from other industries or other segments of the ag industry. There’s always things we can learn, bring it them and apply it to our daily operations. I think there’s value in stretching the boundaries and taking some classes outside of our comfort zone. Also, get involved in clubs. I was active in the ATM club and the Rodeo club, both were great experiences that also forged lifelong friendships.
I am the Marketing Manager and QuickDraw Product Line Manager. In the marketing arena I do all of our advertising, and brochure development and some of our online marketing. From a product stand point, we have a product we call our QuickDraw automated spray tender system and I take care of everything relevant to that product line. That includes working with and training our sales staff, working on product development with our engineering group, identifying what are the next steps in product development and figuring out where to go next with the product.
SureFire Ag is an employee owned company that was started almost 10 years ago in August of 2007, myself and two other original partners started the company. We are focused on fertilizer application technology and equipment for applying fertilizer. In addition to that we are starting to branch out into some other product lines like the QuickDraw automated spray tender systems and fertilizer application through pivot irrigation systems as well.
I received my bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University and majored in agricultural economics.
It’s tough to say one in particular but one class that was very beneficial was not an ag economics class but actually an ag communications class. It was Ag Comm 400–essentially a communications class for non-communications majors that really focused on communications and the concepts of what you need to do in a business environment to effectively communicate and write. That’s a class that sticks out in my mind as one that is very beneficial.
I really enjoyed my agricultural economics classes and that’s why I stayed with that major but relative to what we do at SureFire Ag, we have an engineering group and we do a lot of engineering work and product development and technology development. I wish I had pursuing some more technical classes as compared to agricultural economics. Over in engineering there’s days that skill wise, relative to drawing parts or drafting parts, I think skills like that would not just be beneficial but also something that I would really enjoy.
I graduated from K-State in the spring of 2003 and spent a year immediately after working for the fraternity that I was a part of, traveling and visiting different chapters throughout the country. And then once I wrapped that up I went to work for a company in Atwood called the J.D. Skiles Company. They were in the fertilizer equipment business and I was there for two and half years and the gentleman that was my sales manager there along with myself and my brother Josh teamed up in order to start SureFire Ag.
There are tons of opportunities out there to get involved and find career opportunities in agriculture if you look for them. It’s very easy to only view the world of agriculture in terms of what you see in the 30 by 30 mile area where you grew up and the reality of it is that the world of agriculture is so broad and diverse. At SureFire Ag, we work across the country and a lot of the work we do within row crop agriculture and even just within corn production, production methods are far different in Kansas as they are in the Pacific Northwest or in upstate New York. So even just in the one commodity, its vastly different as you move across the U.S. If you broaden that out beyond just a single commodity there’s crops that we don’t even grow in Kansas and all of them are still within the context of agriculture.
As Assistant General Counsel for Kansas Farm Bureau, I provide general legal advice to the corporation. As Director of the Kansas Farm Bureau Legal Foundation, I provide education, information, and research on legal issues affecting persons directly engaged in agriculture or related enterprises, and advocate for the agricultural industry.
I attended Kansas State University and obtained a B.S. in agricultural economics and horticulture, and an M.S. in agricultural economics. I received a J.D. from the University of Tulsa.
The most beneficial class I took was my agricultural law course as a college senior. Until then, I hadn’t really thought about being an attorney. I loved the topics and the challenge of the course and decided law might be a good career for me.
In each of my jobs, I could have benefitted from more coursework in oil and gas and natural resources.
Between education and work for my husband and me, we bounced back and forth between Kansas and Oklahoma a few times. I started out at a small law firm with a civil practice in Manhattan, Kansas, for my first two years out of law school. I learned from some great attorneys and it was a great way to get exposed to many different civil law matters. My next job, for five years, was at a large Oklahoma law firm in Tulsa. I had a mainly transactional practice, primarily in the areas of oil and gas finance and real estate. When we returned to Kansas, I had a great opportunity to work in agricultural law for a government agency for about two and a half years. Finally, I just recently joined Kansas Farm Bureau, and am really looking forward to continuing my work in agricultural law with Kansas farmers and ranchers.
Work hard and be nice to people. A couple of the career opportunities I have had resulted solely from a good resume and a decent interview. But, even with a strong resume, I experienced a fair bit of rejection when applying for jobs. A couple of my best career opportunities resulted from, or were at least greatly aided by, relationships I have built along the way. One more thing, if you are in a job you like, with people you like to work with, you are probably on the right track.
I wear a lot of hats- most of the work I do is in analyzing and converting data that we collect. When it involves new technology there is always work to be done. Mainly the expectations from our customers run the show and how we work.
How did you come across your current position?My co-worker Curt and I have worked together professionally for years but the drone thing started to emerge about four years ago. Between the two of us we had the skill set to make it click.
Bachelor’s Degree- Life Science & Biology
I found my GIS classes – remote sensing classes to be very beneficial. This type of coursework is often overlooked in the ag industry. I really enjoyed these classes and they have helped me to learn how to analyze and convert the data that we collect.
Meteorology – know to fly commercially
I worked for Farm Service Agency- doing digital common land unit maps. I worked in city and county government in GIS. I have worked a lot on aerial maps to digitize them onto a digital format.
Don’t think about the Drones so much- that piece will come. The jobs may be elsewhere because this is such a quick evolving niche industry. You have to have the foundation along with it to go into this field. Find something that interests you and pick something that makes you stand out from the crowd.
I work more with the hardware side, all of the details about the drone and how to fly it. I am usually the go to guy with anything that involves parts and repair.
Bachelor’s Degree in geography, GIS
I am from a farming family. GIS- hobby RC experience- nitro aircraft
The most beneficial class I took was soils. Learning about the layers that go into the maps is very important. Being able to understand and know what that means when talking with farmers is crucial. Cartography- assembling a map and making it user ready is very important in what I am doing now. The hard biology classes to understand what’s going on with the crops & life cycle (botany.)
I wish I would have taken a computer programming course- it’s helpful to know when talking to software developers. You want to be able to speak the same language so that you can pass the right information along.
Be prepared to be flexible to change direction with your career/business plan. You may need another part time job right out of the bat. The drone industry is quick evolving and it is a niche industry. Farmers are really smart people- don’t sell snake oil to farmers- they’ll pick up on it real quick. Don’t overpromise what you can do. Be open and it will help you to learn as you go.
K-State, Masters- soybean inoculants – plant physiology
College of the Ozarks- Undergrad- general ag w/emphasis in agronomy and horticulture
All of my agronomy classes helped to get the broad knowledge- which has been very helpful in extension. Crop Physiology was important to me in learning how a plant responds and grows- It was my favorite class and definitely helps with what I do now. It has helped me to diagnose a problem in a field like yellowing or insect disease pressure.
Doing some more within soils – I would like to have a better understanding. It can make or break what’s going on in the field. Biology- a few more plant or botany classes would have been good as well.
Growing up on a farm I’ve always had a love for plants. That really directed my college courses and now career. My background on the farm gave me confidence to go into agriculture- I saw a lot of opportunities in agronomy.
I was a 4-Her so I have been around extension all my life. I didn’t see the crop side as much when I was young- but through my graduate work at K-State it gave me the whole picture of extension. I loved the teaching aspect- so those experiences added up to the interest in extension. Service for the community and strong focus on education is what ultimately drew me to that job.
Take advantage of as many opportunities are presented to you that peak an interest. Doing an internship is REALLY beneficial. Job shadow- if you want to ride along a field tours or see what I do- many people are okay with that. Don’t be afraid to ask- the answer isn’t always no. Get as many experiences as you can. Make goals early- Find what interests you and then explore what career options are within that interest. It’s never too early to start exploring what’s out there for careers
For those looking at careers in extension, for many it’s not always lifetime career, if you want to get a strong base in a lot of different things, extension is a great way to get a base knowledge. So many opportunities presented for continuing education. This will assist me moving forward even if it’s not in extension.
Commodities trading class- The set up of the class was really neat, we could purchase up to three shares, put in money, and make a recommendation to buy or sell. It gave me real life experience that you don’t always get.
Accounting – detailed advanced accounting classes. Financial statements & analyzing – FY end
I grew up with my dad as a coop manager, and when I was younger worked for a dairy farmer with crop land. After taking a trading class & some other experiences I was drawn in to look at commodity marketing. I had an Internship with FCC now is FC Stone, they are a commodity brokerage company that works with coop and private elevators and I did a lot with hedging. Internship led to full time position.
Network and really get to know your classmates. It’s easy to go to class- but you will be surprised when you go to meetings down the road at how many of those same people you went to college with. If you network now you are setting yourself up to be successful in your career path. Take a little while to figure out what you enjoy and what you’re good at.
BS Agricultural Economics, MBA Finance
Trading in Commodity Futures
Market analyst for Farmland Industries working with all business units (fertilizer, petroleum, feed, grain).
Pursue opportunities to learn about as many business aspects as possible, beyond your job description. Also, seek out mentors with the industry you are working.
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